Faith AND Works

This morning I was at Christ Episcopal Church, where Mark Osler and I engaged in a dialogue on Faith and Works during the church’s Sunday Morning Adult Education Hour. These public dialogues with Mark, an outgrowth of our own conversations, are an enormous source of blessing for me, as are all of our conversations; I grow a lot from my engagement with him.

While Mark and I manifest our Christian discipleship in different ways in the world (despite the fact that we both are law professors at the same law school), some important shared underlying premises came out in our dialogue today.

First and foremost is that the Great Commandment that we love God and love one another means that faith and works are inextricably linked. Christianity is an incarnational faith that was always meant to be manifested in the world.

Second, it is God’s plan of salvation we are about, not our own. Mark shared the oft-used reminder, “God is God, and I am not God.” That invites us to a humility and a selflessness. It is not my project, my plans that I author, but God’s plan that I have a role in. That has a lot of implications, several of which we mentioned in our conversation, including that it frees us to rejoice in each other’s achievements, rather than have jealousy or envy over them.

As I said at the end of our time together, for me the bottom line is that the invitation to listen to God’s word and act on it is there for all of us and it is our choice whether to accept it. And our invitation is, to use James’ formulation is to be “doers of the word and not hearers only,” to manifest our faith in all we do. How we each do “works” in the world differs – Mark and I are great examples of that – but our invitation is to live our faith in the world in a meaningful way.

PS – I neglected to record our dialogue, as I often do. This is a conversation Mark and I have had before and, although today’s dialogue was very different from the last time we did it, if you are interested, you can listen to a podcast of the prior talk here.


Taking a Break

I’m incredibly busy right now. Classes, the last stages of editing of a book I’m co-authoring with two other women on women, law and religions, marketing relating to the meditation book, preparation for upcoming retreats and other talks I’m giving, trying to finish the conversion book so I can send it out to potential publishers, etc. I alternate between feeling like I have it all under control and feeling like I’m about to drop some of the balls I’m juggling.

When this is the state of my life – which is actually pretty often (well OK – it’s actually most of the time), it is easy for me to fall into a mode where I forget everything other than work. It takes effort not to fall into the trap of thinking I can just muscle in more and more hours of work into each day without a break – effort not to view the weekend as just more time to get in more work.

I decided to be very intentional about avoiding that this weekend. We had our friends Dave and Jean over for dinner to celebrate our friend’s birthday. Dave and I spend a good part of today doing a nine mile hike. (I could talk tons about that, but some of my readers are doubtless tired of hearing me wax on about the beauty of fall hiking.) Tomorrow night we’ll go out to dinner to celebrate our anniversary. It is true that I’ll do some work this evening and that Mark Osler and I have a talk to give tomorrow morning. But the time away from work is important for my health, my marriage and my happiness.

So no matter how busy you are, make sure you are taking some time to be with friend, be with nature. Do whatever it is that recharges you. Make sure your answer to every suggestion of”fun” time is not “I’m too busy.” It is way to easy a habit to fall into.

A New Year of Adult Faith Formation

Wednesday evening was the opening of the faith formation year at St. Thomas Apostle, including not only children’s religious education, but the adult faith formation for parishioners of St. Thomas Apostle and Christ the King.

Bill Nolan, pastoral associate at STA, and I decided to begin the year with a six week series that take up, in various ways, some of the central themes of Vatican II.

After Bill gave a brief introduction of the upcoming year, I spoke a little about the Year of Faith, called by Pope Benedict, which begins on October 11 – the 50th anniversary of the opening of Vatican II and the twentieth anniversary of the Catechism of the Catholic Church. Given that, it is not suprising that Pope Benedict’s request is that Catholics spend time this year reflecting on the documents of Vatican II and on the catechism so that they may deepen their knowledge of their faith.

Bill then gave a brief summary of some of Vatican II’s major themes and how they relate to the topics we’ll be addressing in our six sessions.

The first thing we are taking up is the subject of Faithful Citizenship. So we showed a brief film about the USCCB’s document of that title, after which we spoke about the first part of that document.

You can access a recording of Bill and my remarks here or stream it from the icon below. (The podcast runs for 49:00; there is a pause at the point where we showed the film.)

Strive To Live Content

Today the Catholic Church celebrates the memorial of one of my great heroes, St. Vincent de Paul. My years teaching at St. John’s University (a Vincentian institution) and my consequent friendship with so many members of the Vincentian family have led to my developing a great love for this humble man who was so very sensitive to the needs of others.

I’ve written many things about Vincent over the years I’ve been blogging. Today I simple share an instruction he gave in his Letters, good advice for all of us.

Strive to live content in the midst of those things that
cause your discontent. Free your mind from all that
troubles you, God will take care of things. You will be
unable to make haste in this [choice] without, so to
speak, grieving the heart of God, because he sees that
you do not honor him sufficiently with holy trust. Trust in
him, I beg you, and you will have the fulfillment of what
your heart desires.

To all of my friends in the worldwide Vincentian family, and to all those who try to live out Vincent’s charism, a happy feast day!

Shake the Dust From Your Feet

In today’s Gospel from St. Luke, Jesus sends out his Apostles to “proclaim the Kingdom of God and to heal the sick.” He gives them several instructions before they go. The first is one I’ve written about before – the instruction that they should take nothing or the journey – no walking stick, food, money, etc.

Then he tells them that “as for those who do not welcome you, when you leave that town, shake the dust from your feet in testimony against them.”

I’ve sat with this line a couple of times. It is an instruction that I think can be easy to get wrong.

Clearly Jesus is not suggesting that we walk away every time some disagrees with our efforts to proclaim the Gospel. Preaching the Gospel is hard and people are not always going to “welcome” us immediately. So some fortitude, patience and endurance are necessary.

But I read Jesus as saying here that sometimes we do just need to walk away. That we won’t always succeed in reaching people. (I am always reminded that Jesus let the rich young man walk away – he didn’t chase after him and force him to sell all he had.) Knowing when to stay, and when to shake the dust from our feet is the challenge.

Fall Reflection Series – Week 3: Christian Teaching on Forgiveness

Today was the third session of our Fall Reflection Series on forgiveness at UST School of Law. We had a good turnout again this week, despite a number of competing events during the lunch hour.

As we always do, We began the session by giving participants time to share in small groups some of their experience from their prayer over the last week with the material I distributed last week.

Following the sharing and some time to address questions and answers, Fr. Dan Griffith offered the reflection for this week. His talk addressed Christian teaching on forgiveness and he drew on scripture as well as tradition in talking about the centrality of the command the we forgive in the same manner that God forgives us. As he discussed during his talk that means forgiving with the same depth and breadth with which God does and forgiving with sincerity. In the course of his talk, he shared some of his own experiences of forgiveness.

You can access a recording of Fr. Dan’s reflection here or stream it from the icon below. (The podcast runs for 26:56.) You can find a copy of this week’s prayer material here.

A Pope On the Slopes

I just finished reading The Secret Life of John Paul II, written by Lino Zani (with Marilu Simonesci), kindly sent to me by St. Benedict Press. The book was written last year and recently translated into English.

Lino Zani was born and raised in the Italian alps is an avid skier and mountain climber. Since his parents owned and operated a mountain lodge (a lodge dedicated to the fallen soldiers of the Adamello, which figures into the story), he also instructed and guided others in skiing in is mountains.

The beginning of Zani’s relationship with Pope John Paul II began when the pope’s personal secretary had the idea that Zani’s parent’s secluded lodge would be a good location for a papal skiing vacation. The idea came to fruition, thus beginning a relationship that would last until the Pope’s death – a relationship that began as mountain guide and developed into a deep friendship.

For many years, Zani said nothing about his encounters with the Pope, but decided on the “verge of the beatification of John Paul II…to recount in its entirety, with faithful precision and a spirit of authentic and Christian awareness, the human and spiritual story…revisiting the trail of all the memories of those twenty-one exgraordinary years with the Holy Father.”

Despite the title, there may be no secrets in the book, but reading it made me feel that I knew Pope a little more personally and deeply than I had before. Zani beautifully conveys both the personalism and the prayerfulness of Pope John Paul II. Whoever the Pope was with at any given time received his love and his undivided attention. One senses reading that no one was ever made to feel small in his presence. The picture of the Pope’s sense of humor and delight in simple play made me smile.

What really touched me were the descriptions of the Pope at prayer in the mountains, which beautifully conveyed his deep holiness and spirituality. Zani describes seeing that up close: “The main effect of his holiness was precisely that of transmitting a stream of unexpected courage to face one’s own life, whatever it was like. For a little while after having been with him, one became intrepid, impermeable to the evil of sufferings, unharmed by fear.”

Although the delight of the book is in the picture of the Pope it presents, the book also tells the story of a cross in the mountain, dedicated to solders that died during World War I – and the relationship of that to the Fatima predictions. That part made an interesting read, but, for me at least, not as compelling as the portrait of holiness Zani paints.

As the book jacket says, this book provides a “fascinating glimpse into the private life of history’s most public pontiff.” A good read.

Fall Hiking

I just returned from an eight mile hike with my husband in Afton State Park. It was a beautiful day for a hike. Clear blue skies and sunshine and comfortable cool walking temperature.

I write here with some frequency about hiking because, as my posts suggests, it is an activity during which I am acutely aware of the presence of God. The sun shining on my face, the trees majestically reaching upward, the birds singing – all feels and speaks of God.

Afton is a fairly large park (as may parks here in the midwest are), and at one point, I thought to myself, “I’m not exactly sure where I am.” And I felt God and I say at the same time together, “That doesn’t really matter, does it? We’re here together and that’s enough.” Indeed, it was.

I spent a lot of time smiling today. Hiking does that to me. Fills me with joy.

If you have been feeling down, my advice is simple: Get yourself out to a park. It doesn’t need to be one with twenty miles of hiking trails, like the one I was at today (although there is something nice about being in a place large enough so you don’t hear the sounds of any vehicles). But someplace where you can walk on some dirt paths between a canopy of trees and hear the birds. Be with nature. Be with God.

St. Paul and Active Indifference

Having made my way through Romans, Galatians and Ephesians during my morning prayer this summer, I’m now praying with the Letter to the Philippians.

Paul wrote his letter to the Philippians while he was in prison. In the passage I prayed with this morning, Paul tells the Philippians that his imprisonment “has actually helped to spread the gospel, that that is has become known throughout the whole imperial guard and to everyone else that [his] imprisonment is for Christ” and that many people have “been made confident in the Lord” by his imprisonment, so much so that they “dare to speak the word with great boldness and without fear.

As I sat with the passage, what came to mind (doubtless because I’m in the early stage of directing three people doing the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius in the form of the 19th annotation) was Ignatius’ Principle and Foundation. Specifically the part that reads:

In everyday life, then, we must hold ourselves in balance
Before all of these created gifts insofar as we have a choice
And are not bound by some obligation.
We should not fix our desires on health or sickness,
Wealth or poverty, success or failure, a long life or a short one.
For everything has the potential of calling forth in us
A deeper response to our life in God.

Although it is difficult to embrace the idea that freedom is not to be preferred to imprisonment, what Paul realized is the truth that “everything has the potential of calling forth in us a deeper response to our life in God.” Paul can thus rejoice at his imprisonment. Whatever situation we are in can be a source of deepening our own relationship to God and that of those around us.

Lessons from Our Jewish Brothers and Sisters: Atonement

I offered the reflection yesterday at our Weekly Manna gathering at the law school. Because we are in the period that, for our Jewish brothers and sisters, is known as the Days of Awe or the Days of Repentance, my theme was atonement.

Specifically, I talked about the necessity of apologizing and asking for the pardon of those we have wronged. That included remarks about how we apologize and the process of reflection that helps us to recognize when we need to ask the pardon of another. With respect to the former, I am indebted to my friend Rabbi Norman Cohen, whose thoughts I shared with those who were present.

As Christians, we don’t have a particular time of year that we focus on our need to seek forgiveness from others (and from God), although some of us go through a similar process in preparation for receipt of the Sacrament of Reconciliation. But all of us, whether incident to a time of year like our Jewish brothers and sisters, incident to a sacrament or otherwise, need to engage in this kind of reflection.

You can access a recording of my reflection here or stream it from the icon below. It includes a guided meditation on a shortened version of an examen. (The podcast runs for 16:49.) You can find a copy of the handout I distributed and discussed about at the end of my talk here.